HAREM WISH by Jan Carr. (Dutton: $19.95; 245 pp.) It's difficult reviewing a first novel with an insecure narrator who wants desperately to be liked because beaming a critical headlight on this character and her story feels tantamount to betrayal. "Harem Wish" features Codie, a writer and editor who is overflowing with romance, imagination and anger. These three personality traits, qualities she is helpless against, rule every aspect of her life. Codie's lover, See (also a woman) treats Codie, one suspects, not as well as she deserves. Cut to Sari and Anwa, members of a harem in ancient Arabia, who are connected through reincarnation (it's not quite as hokey as it sounds) to Codie and Dee.
Jumping randomly through time, "Harem Wish" traces the rise and fall of both couples as Sari loses her innocence and Codie slowly moves toward emotional health. Of the two stories, Codie's is by far stronger due mostly to the quirks and vulnerably of her character. There is a young adult feel to "Harem Wish," a kind of wide-eyed wonder that makes the whole book seem a little naive. However, Carr is a talented writer and it will be interesting to see what she does when all her characters live in the same era.